Why the iPhone’s New eSIM is an Important Change

For years, each cellphone included a tiny smart card called a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) that contained the “identity” of that device so that it could connect to a specific cellular network.

Data on SIM cards includes user identification, location, and phone number, network authorization information, personal security keys, contact lists, and saved text messages.

When Apple introduced the new iPhone 14, they repeated something they had done years before. They removed a piece of hardware from the phone. First, it was the earphone jack and now it was the removable SIM card and tray. Just like the earphone jack, Apple is touting this change as a boon for consumers. Now, all iPhone 14s sold in the US will use eSIM technology.

"I think it's transformational," Ahmed Khattak, founder and CEO of US Mobile, a mobile virtual network operator that offers service on Verizon and T-Mobile's respective networks. "I think the fact that it even happened ... I'm shaking my head ... because it really democratizes connectivity." 

A type of programmable SIM card known as an eSIM (embedded-SIM) consists of software put onto a chip permanently installed in a device, as opposed to an integrated circuit on a releasable universal integrated circuit card, which is commonly constructed of PVC.

Once an eSIM carrier profile has been installed, it operates the same as a physical SIM, complete with a unique integrated circuit card identifier (ICCID) and network authentication key generated by the carrier.

So, why is this change so important? For users, there are three advantages to eSIMs over physical SIM cards:

• It’s more secure, because no one can remove it from the phone and use it to intercept phone calls or text messages. (This isn’t the most common form of SIM card hijacking, but it is still possible for someone with physical access to the phone.)
•           Switching carriers is easier, because you don’t have to wait for a SIM card to arrive or pick one up at a store.
•           Adding extra lines is easier, because you no longer need a phone with dual SIM card trays. (On the iPhone, Apple supports up to two phone numbers and eight data lines with eSIM.)

An eSIM also benefits phone manufacturers and wireless carriers.

• By getting rid of the SIM tray, Apple will gain more valuable interior space it can use to install more technology.

• For carriers, it's a money-saver because they no longer must spend between $10-$20 per physical SIM card.

Like almost every change, there are going to be some growing pains. Not all US carriers are eSIM compatible. Some alternative providers that lease capacity from the major carriers–known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators, or MVNOs, in industry jargon–don’t support eSIM today, which means you can’t use an iPhone 14 on their networks. Some notable examples include Ting, Walmart Mobile, US Mobile, Net10, and Tello.

Conversely, there are small carriers like Mint Mobile, US Mobile and Boost Mobile in the US who have been preparing for this change for some time.

"Mint has always believed in digital technologies that enhance and ease wireless services," Aron North, Mint Mobile's chief marketing officer, said in a statement. "Mint has been supporting [the] eSIM for almost two years because we knew, even back then, this innovation would allow users to switch faster and easier."

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